Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The giddy pleasure of no rules.

I've spent much of the past decade watching, learning, sculpting 3 specific scripts that were each an homage, expansion, and/or investigation of the facets of the Noir Genre. As a result, I've acquired alot of the technique and style of that period. My imagination is intimate with the style.

However, there really is no way to immerse yourself in that sort without picking up on a few rules, a few boundaries, a few precepts. As you move toward the genre, your mind, your approach, however fluid in the beginning will begin to take the shape of the glass, so to speak. In short, when working in the realm of Noir, I have rules, all sorts of rules. Even when other people can't discern the rules, or if I choose to break them for a moment, they are there. They help me as a practice craft. They are essential, I don't want to disregard them, but Hey! ... Rules sometimes can feel a little limiting.

Now that I have switched Genres for a short time (the Mammals theatre company will soon be beginning production on Seven Snakes, our take on the Spaghetti Western), I feel suddenly free from rules. There is a real giddiness, a tangible pleasure of discovery as we move closer to our first western for the stage. I have no rules! And even though I'm sure something with a little more restraint will arise, right now I can try anything. Frightening? Yes! But Invigorating too!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rehearsal for New Year's Resolutions

There are still things in this world that are worth getting mad over. But here is a list of things that I used to let inspire rage inside, but am making a resolution to learn how to let them go.

Improv Comedy
Hot women always leering at me on public transportation
Double wide infant strollers
Panhandlers
Assholes in the audience
Comcast's Prices
Lady Gaga
Rush Limbaugh
Fox News
Twitter's effect on cumulative thought
The approval of squares
The approval of anyone
People who make faces
Kids who think they know better
FreeCreditReport dot com
Jon Stewart's frat boy antics
Cubs fans
NBA thuggery
That asshat who knocked up the other asshat in that movie of the same name
MTV
American Idol
Prescription Drug Marketing
Rednecks
Car exhaust
Pollen
Co-Workers misbehavior
The General lack of anything on TV that doesn't suck
Rickety chairs
Squeaking Wheels
Emotional Vampires
Fucking Stephanie Meyer
Andy Rooney
Dave Barry
etc.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

You Are Not Your Label

How do you define yourself? I guess I'm talking about your theater company specifically? There are a lot of different labels and designations, so many that the terms can suffer for meaning. Chicago theater, Storefront theater, Off Loop, Emerging, Experimental, Community theater, OffOff Loop, GBLT, Member of the League, Late Night theater, Comedy theater, Physical Theater, Theater of Images, Political Theater, Urban Theater, Ethnic Theater, and on and on and on.

The labels sometimes enable. Often they are a way in which others attempt to relegate you. At worst, occasionally it is what helps folks decide whether or not to dismiss others' artistic efforts. For many people, the Mammals are an off off loop low budget theater company that specializes in Horror. If this is what a person decides we are, that will enable or disable their desire to see your shows. We can do the most faithful production of 'Miracle Worker' and some people will be certain that a Mammals take on it would have to include blindfolding the audience and dowsing them with water (I don't want to do this production, but I have to admit it would tickle me to hear of such an endeavor). Labels can lock you into the grid. And there are a few of us, very few of us I fear, who ever want to get off the grid. (I think the most exciting undiscovered country is be found off that grid).

Labels have more to do with marketing than meaning. And if you decide that your marketing is your meaning, well you have consigned yourself to a inferno of economics over art. I know it wouldn't work for everyone, but today my own personal theory can be visualized as a see saw, art on one side, economics on the other. Except that balance rarely occurs (I originally typed 'Accept that balance rarely occurs'). I'll save that tangent for another day.

In the end though it is up to you and your audience to decide what you are. No one else gets a vote. No one else's opinion truly matters. Even a critic's opinion only matters after they have become a member of the audience (this means that you have to do more than just a few shows). Once they become a member of the audience, then they have a opinion that you as the playmaker should start to hear. That doesn't always mean you concede, or you conform to every expressed desire. It means that your audience does have a right to enter into a conversation with you about the work, if they so choose. And, if they are not conversing with you, I sure hope they are discussing the work with someone. Otherwise it seems futile.

Remember that it is ok for someone to not like the work, to not enjoy the show, to have criticisms. It doesn't mean you have to exclude them from your circle of friends. It doesn't mean you now have a sworn enemy to defeat. It means that whatever you put up in front of the audience that night didn't resonate with that person. Period. They have a label they might put on you, but you are not your label.

If anyone out there tries to convince you that 'everyone' loves their show, smile and nod. Don't try to convince them otherwise. If anyone out there tries to convince you that 'no one' likes your show or that your show doesn't count, smile and nod. This sort of individual usually can't be

I always thank the audience as they are leaving the space (or I always intend to). Sometimes you might get caught up doing something essential for the performance space or putting out a metaphorical fire. Still, there is something about thanking the audience that I learned is essential. It lets them know that for good or bad, you stand by what you just showed them. It shows them that they are important. When you are doing very challenging work, an audience member can sometimes feel superfluous to the production. Looking them in the eye with gratitude helps. After thanking them, many folks don't see a show that needs to be labelled. They see a show that Bob put up. The Mammals then becomes synonymous with myself and the other folks that night who thanked them for listening to the story. We occasionally discuss the stories, and forget about the labels.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Author and Auteur

What happens when you hear the script outloud either the first time or after a very long time?

It helps me immensely. I like hearing people respond to the piece. Sometimes during a reading you can get a thrill listening to the words coming out of actors' mouths. It is tough though in that you want to start directing right away.

There are somethings that a reading can't show you, can't tell you. Often a reading just can't tell you how powerful the visual component of the play will be. You can (and I have) spend alot of time and energy working on explicit descriptions of the nuts and bolts of the titanic as it goes down, but it just wont happen during a first read thru.

You can say "He stands there, eyeing the crowd" and never know during a read thru if that is the right moment in the script for such an action. Sometimes a reading can give you an excellent indication of pace, but other times it can't especially when action is being described rather than enacted.

In the end, I think that there is so much that is cinematic in its approach to a script, yes even a stageplay nowadays, that theatre is increasing less about literature and more about action. Shakespeare is precious, but if somebody tried that approach today, they would be told all sorts of feedback that would boggle the mind of a Bill's disciples.

That is not to say that you shouldn't be thankful for feedback. But, you should away look upon that feedback as a way to understand your deeper intent rather than as a way to make a more palatable 'product'. Everyone has an auteur inside them. That auteur has to be able to communicate, but still let the auteur smile and scowl and wink on occasion. Variety can be the wondrous result.

The author/auteur must be willing to listen to the response without abandoning originality and intent. The read thru is not a final judgement, but it is an experiment (god that is a hard word to type because of all it implies to so many out there). Even if the experiment fails, I say hold on to the intention of that experiment. Hold on to it as long as you can!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Doubt happens but it is ok

Doubt happens. It is part or the process. To proceed without having had doubts is foolhardy. To endure despite doubts is somewhat heroic (in that small personal sort of way).

The script can be a huge source of doubt. It sits there on the screen or on the page. You can spend countless hours studying it. And when you attempt to recall your original intent, you fear that those words were once carved in ice and now only vapor. But persistence in the face of such doubt is required.

Know that even the most braggadocios have doubt. Doubt is valid, but so is tenacity despite those doubts!

How do you manage your doubts? How do you overcome them?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Am I getting too old to change my word processor?

So, I got to thank a few friends lately that happen to be diligent enough to catch my clerical errors when trying to arrange readings. Between all the hullabaloo of real life, a short 4 day work week, etc... I got all my dates and days mixed up. The tough thing about that sort of mental mix up is that it seems so darn hard to shake, like signing 2009 onto your 2010 cheques this past January.

But rather than talking calendar logistics, lets turn it back to the art. As I've been writing and rewriting, it can sometimes get a little confusing which version of the script is the one who want to go with. I used to attach the latest version of any script to a gmail draft email so that I could have access to it wherever I went (that had wifi... which is turning into almost everywhere).

Now most the time, I was able to keep everything in order, properly label each and any draft, and actually have a pretty good record of various drafts. I know that google documents might even be a better option for this sort of exercise, but I am not the biggest fan of the google documents interface. I like, perhaps I might even need, to see writing subdivided by pages. Openoffice does this. Word does this. Heck, even Wordperfect does this. But Google Docs does not.

Some of my friends are huge advocates for scriptwriting software. I have tried a few, but haven't found that software that makes me fall in love and think about uninstalling my openoffice. What sort of software do you use when writing?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Woyzeck - Spoilers Ahead!!!

I had a conversation today with some tweeters about this Woyzeck Festival that is apparently happening. We each seemed to be coming at it from different angles, but one of us asked if anyone could participate in the festival since the work was in the public domain. I thought that just because anyone could didn't necessarily mean that it was a good idea, especially for smaller companies who may feel that they were already struggling for audience and/or exposure.

Whereas, some can imagine this as a diverse experiment, others might consider that after a single version or perhaps two different versions, and audience might get Woyzeck fatigue. Comparisons were made to the success of the O'Neill festival and how that could translate to this sort of endeavor. But, I don't know that that is an apt analogy. This isn't a Buchner festival of many companies performing all four of his works, this is just one specific play.

Some of the play's fans suggest that this specific piece could transcend fatigue since there are endless possible variations of production. For those of you who aren't familiar with Woyzeck, there is no definitive version. Many different versions in different scene orders exist, which has meant that the events in the play are open to recombinations.

But, even despite this, the question for me remains (spoiler alert)... how many times can I watch Franz stab Maria in a single season before I decide to spend my audience dollars on a more diverse selection of stories?

Any thoughts? Is audiene fatigue a possibility here? Does it matter? If not why not?

FavoriteThing(s)ThisWeek - Arts Club of Chicago


Arts Club of Chicago. I am amazed how many of my fellow artists and art lovers don't avail themselves of this wonderful little oasis nestled in the Streeterville neighborhood. Right now they are exhibiting work by one of the greats of the 20th Century German Art, George Grosz. Click, but don't just click... go see! It's free!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

On being civil when asking for money!

On being civil at the very least in person.

So I was invited to a fundraiser. It happens. Alot. And when I got there, I found alot of friendly faces I hadn't seen in a while. It felt great. Two interactions really stood out. One of the individuals there was super friendly. This person when out of their way to make me feel welcome, to introduce me to other people I didn't know. This person made the experience wonderful, inclusive, inviting. There was somebody else there, this person was in a bad mood. This person went out of their way to be rude and standoffish. This person did nothing but complain about others in a recent project. When asked what this person was working on, this person just shrugged and said something self derogatory and then mocked me for pretending to care.

Here's some advice. If you can't be friendly, positive, and gracious at your own fundraiser, stay home... or at the very least stay away from my table after I just paid the cover to support you.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Are you still connected? What do you want from your theatrosphere?

I told a friend that now was an exciting time for off loop theatre. She seemed surprised to hear me say this. I thought more people were getting work produced. I thought the press was more interested, I thought people were still coming to see shows at the off loop level (of course this is a hard to agree upon thing to define...off loop of off off loop anyway, I think the people I know are getting work up, the work is being seen, they are growing as artists, they are making it work).

I've seen a ton of good theatre in the past 2 years. Most of those productions are listed over in my margin (I occasionally don't get a show up there that I've seen, but most of them I do.

However, I do think there is a by product of that energy and business and excitement. I think that sometimes many of us let our connections fall to the wayside. We get so busy in the making of the art, that we don't have as many beers and behind the scene connections as we once did.

Fewer posts about the work, about the day to day of what we do.

So, in a roundabout way here is my question... are we all still as connected as we once were? I mean on any level you wish to address be it locally here in Chicago or nationally and virtually on theatrosphere?

Is the theatrosphere still giving you want you want from it? What do you want from it?